If prayers were answered the way I wanted them to be, you probably wouldn't know me.
Why? I'd be sitting on the beach, that I'd own or in a mountain cabin, which I'd also own. Without truly confessing anything, perhaps I've prayed to win the lottery. Well, not in so many words, but bought a ticket thinking God was on my side for the win.
Prayer is an interesting thing, and honestly something I feel that I (and a majority of other Christians) get wrong. Sure, intercessory prayer is an aspect of prayer as our Father wants us to take our concerns to Him. However, we often come into prayer from the wrong angle.
A recent study by Adam Hamilton that our Bible study class went through pointed out a few things in my prayer life that I've either changed or worked on changing.
- "God is not a vending machine." Ok, yes, I heard that one in youth group and have believed it since. However, I took it a bit literally. I knew that I couldn't pray for a new car and poof, would have a new car. But it goes deeper.
It also means that I shouldn't ignore my responsibility in asking God for things. If I pray to God that a friend of mine become a Christian, perhaps I should pray to live as a better witness. This changes prayer from a passive attitude of, "Good, I told God to make this person a Christian and I'm sure He's for people believing in Him, so I'm done." to "God help me live and act in a way that my life will be such an example of your love and joy that my friend will see you."
Same outcome – friend becoming a Christian, but vastly different roads.
God will not violate another's free will in response to my prayer. God will not make someone love me, come to faith in Christ or buy my house because it would be forcing someone to do something – which is contrary to the free will we've been granted. So, perhaps our prayers should be that I be worthy of one's love, that I be a truer reflection of Christ's love or that I price my house reasonably.
- Miracles do happen and we should have faith to pray for them. However, often, instead of a miracle, God uses us to help answer the prayers of others (well, knowing myself perhaps this is a miracle). Prayer should be bold in asking God to intervene but it should also be a conversation about how I am to be the presence of Christ in a hurting world. Miracles happen when God intervenes with the laws of physics, laws of nature that He created and set in place.
- We thank God for the good things but don't blame Him for the bad. "I found a parking space right by the door on Black Friday. Thank God!" "The tornado that wiped out our town spared our house, thank you God!" What about those who didn't find a parking space, or much more importantly, those whose houses were not saved? Does God love them less? No, that's impossible. And what does it say about the others, they didn't love God enough?
We can thank God for the good because He is the author of life and the creator of Earth. In life on earth He created forces of nature, which usually work to our benefit, but in a fallen world, they can also work to our detriment. But can we blame him for the bad? Does God cause the bad? No. We did when we ate from the tree of knowledge. Does God allow the bad? By default, yes. God can be directly involved in a situation if he so chooses because he is above all situations.
Sometimes we are an answer to someone's prayers. If you travel overseas on a mission trip to dig wells for clean water – that could be answering someone's prayer for clean, healthy water. If you visit a friend who's going through a hardship and you just sit and talk – that could be an answer to his/her prayer.
Sometimes bad things happen because of a very bad decision. Do school shootings happen for a reason? Yes, but it doesn't have anything to do with God causing it. Those happen because a broken individual made a horrible free will decision. Doesn't mean we can blame God for it. God works through all things, not God causes all things.
Prayer is a wonderful gift and way to experience God in our lives. The above points are by no means exhaustive, but are just a few aspects I've re-realized lately.
Pray continuously for yourself, for others and for miracles. Just do remember the part we play in fulfilling God's work on earth.
The Texas Baptistist